Chicago strike likely to affect other Ill. schools

Published: Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012 5:30 a.m.CDT

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SPRINGFIELD – Parents across Illinois may want to take a close look at the Chicago teachers strike and what it produced. It could affect their local schools for years to come.

Management and labor in other parts of the state will scrutinize the Chicago deal to see what pieces can be adapted to their local needs, experts said. Decisions on how to include student performance in teacher evaluations, required by recent statewide education laws, will be of huge interest. So will seemingly mundane issues like reducing teachers’ paperwork or protecting them from abusive principals.

Both sides of the negotiating table also will look at the big picture, experts predict. They’ll see that Chicago teachers went on strike, largely kept parents on their side, and managed to win some concessions.

“I imagine there’s a lot of nervous school boards around the state,” said Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

No other school district faces labor issues that precisely match Chicago’s, he and others said. That’s partly because of the district’s huge size, but also because two recent education laws have restrictions that apply only to Chicago. For instance, a strike couldn’t be called unless 75 percent of eligible Chicago teachers voted for it.

But other districts will also have to grapple with adding student performance to the criteria used to evaluate teachers. It’s a switch that requires tricky decisions about how to measure student performance, and this week’s plan in Chicago could serve as a guide. Chicago is adding it now, and all Illinois schools will follow suit by 2016.

“It already has been, in many places, a contentious issue. There have been a lot of deep conversations and we’re still four years away from its implementation in most cases,” said Brandon Wright, a Champaign attorney who frequently represents school boards.

Boards and superintendents may also note that the union was able to soften Chicago officials’ request for student performance to count for 45 percent of teachers’ evaluations. The deal says it will be 25 percent the first two years and tenured teachers can’t be penalized the first year. An appeals process also was added.

Bruno said the Chicago agreement also includes measures to reduce the amount of time teachers spend recording data like attendance and test scores. It includes a no-bullying clause for overbearing principals, gives laid-off teachers more ability to claim jobs that may open up later and increases the partial reimbursement teachers get for buying supplies out of their own pockets.

“That kind of language would be very interesting to other teacher unions,” Bruno said. “I think if school boards are smart, they can look at this and say, ‘If Chicago can do it, we can do it, too’.”

Erika Lindley, executive director of ED-RED, a coalition of schools in the Chicago suburbs, agreed that school boards will be taking a close look at the agreement.

“Chicago sets the tone for a lot of policy decisions,” Lindley said.

The strike may have an impact even in districts that don’t face similar issues. Chicago teachers dared to go on strike in an era of frequent defeats for organized labor. They managed to focus the public conversation on working conditions instead of money, helping to keep parents from uniting in opposition to the strike. They took on hard-nosed Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

They did all that and gained some ground. That won’t be lost on teachers elsewhere.

“I think they’ll look and say, hey, those people have had the you-know-what kicked out of them for 25 years and they stood up for themselves,” said Emily Rosenberg, director of DePaul University’s Labor Education Center. “It will give them hope.”

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